Gary Kaplan is one-third of the rough and ready Highland Park rock group RGD. The band released their single “Turn On/Off” earlier this year, has a cover of Joy Division’s “Transmission” coming out in mid-July, and has an album release scheduled for the fall. Here, Gary looks back on New Brunswick’s 80s nightlife, the heights of his 90s bands Rotator Cuff and Dandelion Fire (with a potential reissue on the horizon), what he might do if he had to choose between one more night at the Melody Bar or Court Tavern in their primes, and more.
Bennett Kelly: First up, when and where was your first New Brunswick performance?
Gary Kaplan: Well, I hung out in New Brunswick and was a very avid showgoer in the 80s. So I watched everyone else play, and I didn’t really start playing until 1990. Dandelion Fire was my first band, and my first show was in Hoboken. My second show was in New Brunswick at the Melody, upstairs. And Hoboken was April, so I’d say that was May of 90.
BK: Was there a turning point to get you on stage from just being a showgoer?
GK: I was into all kinds of music, but punk rock and new wave and all that stuff, it kind of had a lot of energy to it. I never felt, although I played since I was 13, I never felt I was good enough to be in a band. And then I met some guys at the Melody who had just come back from England, and there was a big kind of psychedelic resurgence at that time. The Manchester scene. And I started listening to that music and I’m like, I can play this, I think I could do this. So I showed up to practice and it turned out that I was really the one who knew how to play the best, which is kind of a funny twist [laughs].
So I had a very quick launch into the music scene after sort of being on the sidelines for a long time. My first show was in Hoboken, and the second show was in New Brunswick. Our third show was opening for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin at the Fastlane. They were an international touring band who were pretty cool. And within I’d say a year, we were playing on all the biggest stages in New York. We played up in Boston. We did an East Coast tour all the way down to Raleigh and all the cities along the way.
We got signed first to a New Brunswick label, Well Primed Records. And then we got signed to Shimmy Disc, which was the same label that put out Ween, King Missile, some singles with Urge Overkill, and a bunch of other bands, Bongwater. We played regularly at the Limelight. We opened for Blur, Captain Wheel, Charlatans, a bunch of bands down in places like the Tradewinds and Surf Club. And we played a lot at Fastlane and the Melody. Some other bars in New Brunswick. Bowl o Drome. We did a lot in three years.
But it’s pretty amazing from not being in a band to opening for an international act at my third gig. The fourth gig was at the Limelight, by the way, that summer. So that’s my fourth live gig ever. It was pretty unbelievable.
I can’t picture that happening for anybody now. I think the music scene was much different back then. There was no digital media at all. Having a CD made was a big deal back in the day. So I don’t know if I’m wandering off your question, but.
BK: Actually, I have a Blur question because I’m a big Blur nerd. And I saw in the paper, you opened for them at the Fastlane on November 2, 1991.
BK: And then in 2008, you told reporter Chris Jordan that Damon Albarn was a prima donna. Something to do with the microphones being moved around the stage.
GK: Yeah, it’s true [laughs]. It’s a pretty funny story. We played with a lot of awesome bands there like The Real People, The Laws, The Charlatans, Catherine Wheel. We played with a lot of really cool bands at that time, and a lot of them were really cool to hang out with and friendly. But Damon, I guess it was his first time in the United States, touring their first album. And in the middle of the soundcheck he walked in with, like, a fur coat on and an entourage. And I guess he’s being cocky. And during sound check, he didn’t like that we moved the mic stand and he was like, he wanted us to not play. And the one woman and the two members of Slowdive, who were the band that went on in the middle, said to him, What’s with you, you wanker? Somebody let you open for them when you were starting out! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, started yelling at him. And he just backed off and was like, Okay, okay! [laughs]
And Slowdive was a pretty awesome band in the shoegaze world. Dandelion Fire was a total shoegaze, psychedelic band. But also like an indie rock band you could dance to, inspired by the rave music and Manchester music. And Blur was in that pocket. And I just think it’s awesome that the two members of Slowdive were the ones who were, like, calling him out for being a bitch [laughs]. And if it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t have played.
BK: It occurs to me now that Blur, that they didn’t have a very good time in America through the years, which they’ve talked openly about. So that story kind of tracks as being part of that notion.
GK: Well, it could have been their first tour. But I don’t know that Blur, I mean, there was a cult following for all that British music back then. And they were popular, but they weren’t as popular as they got even two, three, four, five albums in, right? They filled the Fastlane. But the Fastlane was only 800 to 1000 people. It could be a little less. It’s like filling the Bowery ballroom.
BK: They have a new single out and an album coming this summer. Have you listened or do you hate their guts now?
GK: No no no, I really need to back off and just say I’m a huge fan of Blur. I always was. I love them. I love the Gorillaz. Love his voice. His attitude kind of grew on me. I didn’t hate him after doing that, I was just a little stunned because I’ve only been playing a year and here I am at this big show that was sort of sponsored by WHTG. Remember that station? And my childhood friend Matt Pinfield at the time was still at HTG, hadn’t jumped to MTV yet. So he liked our band. He helped produce our first EP, the New Brunswick one. And he helped get us some of those gigs. And just to have Damon be such a little wanker, I guess is the word that woman used, I thought it just was a momentary little like, Uh oh, we’re in trouble, and then she jumped in and saved us [laughs].
But, no, I love them. I would say the nicest band we played with was probably New Fast Automatic Daffodils. And The Real People and The Law were all really nice. We went on the tour buses, we hung out with them, we had meals, we had drinks with them. But, yeah, Blur was that one kind of primadonna experience.
BK: So then musically, that was Dandelion Fire, which definitely has that nice shoegazey, Englandy sound to it. And then with your latest single, which is RGD, “Turn On/Off,” feels very Velvet Underground there.
GK: Yeah. While I was still in Dandelion Fire, our bass player had left the band early in Dandelion Fire, and me and him started a band called Rotator Cuff. And that was another sort of big band, as Dandelion Fire ended and Rotator Cuff started. So I’ll just segue in the four bands and you can figure out how to weave it together. Rotator Cuff, by that point, Matt [Pinfield] was on MTV and he submitted us for a panel at South by Southwest. And that was when CMJ [College Media Journal, the bi-weekly trade magazine] was a huge thing in New York. And South by Southwest had just started. It wasn’t the huge monster that it is now.
And we won a panel, it was a clap meter panel, and we came in first in front of like Nine Inch Nails for our single “Alfa Romeo.” And we won the Asbury Park Music Award, the very first one in 95. First song of the year award. We got signed by a San Francisco label. We flew out to Hollywood, made a video which ended up on 120 Minutes, which was the best show on MTV by far. And they also used our song for background music in House of Style, Real World, a bunch of shows. That was the only time I ever saw a lot of royalty checks [laughs] cause apparently for video you get $25 a play as opposed to seven cents on radio or whatever.
Anyway, so that was Rotator Cuff. Unfortunately, Rotator Cuff only lasted for a couple of years and then we broke up. I kept a band going for a few years after that, and then I took kind of a pause on playing music, and started up again around 2002, 2003, and started The Fletchers. And I put out four albums of my music with that band. And we got a lot of good press, a lot of good college radio play. And The Fletchers still play a few times a year. We just played in New Hope last month.
BK: Yeah, John & Peters, right?
GK: Yup. But you know, the band has just gotten more complicated. Everyone had kids, everyone’s moved on, everyone’s far away. It’s just harder to get the band together. Whereas Ryan [Stalcup] and Dave [Jones], the guys I play with in RGD, they all live literally a block or three blocks away from me. And we started playing in 2016, early 2016, and we all have very similar tastes, but some divergence here and there. We did original music, and mostly at the beginning it was me and Ryan writing our own songs and bringing it to the band.
And I’m kind of excited because this next album is all songs that we wrote together, pretty much. “Turn On/Off” is written by the band together. So that’s kind of a cool twist. I would say that the songs that are influential to us are the ones we’ve been covering since the beginning. And Velvet Underground is like one of the first bands we covered, to get back to that question. “Waiting For The Man” is one of our standards.
BK: I saw you do that at Porchfest a couple of years ago, actually, now that I remember.
GK: Was it hailing out?
BK: No, it was a sunny day. I think it must have been 2021.
GK: It must have been Ryan’s porch, probably.
BK: The tall porch.
GK: Yeah. That wasn’t the best sound set up, but hopefully you got the idea of the band. We just played again, our third Porchfest, which I’m one of the organizers, by the way, of Porchfest and also ParkStock, which are going on every year now in Highland Park.
BK: Yeah, I saw those shows too. That was good. I saw The Band Called Fuse at one of those last year.
GK: Oh, they’re amazing. And I just thought it was funny. The Fuse are really great and I got them at Parkstock and see other bands. There’s another funk band. That’s really great. Doing my first blank out there in this interview. They had like 100 people in front of their porch on 2nd Street his year. Ah man. They’re pretty popular. They have a female singer. They do like funky music. Hang on a second. Oh, The Do Rights. Sorry. They’re really good. So those two bands are ones I booked in Highland Park.
But getting back to your thing so yeah, we’ve covered Velvet Undergound, we’ve covered T-Rex, we’ve done old Bowie. We’re doing a Brian Jonestown Massacre song now. We’ve done The Damned. Just a lot of that kind of either late 70s raunchy, punk rock and roll, or 80s and 90s indie rock. We’ve done Sebadoh and Hüsker Dü. Just things that make sense because RGD is really a three-piece with a singing drummer. And I also sing, but it’s the first time I’ve been in a three-piece. We’ve been almost like garage rock, like indie rock, garage rock. We all have pretty strong pop sensibility, so I think that shines through. We’re not a jam band or anything. Our songs are all under three minutes. Pretty much a long one would be like three and a half minutes, which is a little different than a lot of bands.
BK: Do you also help organize the annual Melody Bar reunions?
GK: I would say I was close to the epicenter of it. My roommate in the late 80s, I met at the Melody. And he needed a place to live and I needed a roommate in my first house. And so I lived with this guy for four years while he was at Rutgers, and he was the originator of the Melody Bar Reunion. I think the first one was 2007. He also was an avid photographer, and back in the 80s, he would bring cameras to the Melody, but at the time you had to bring a film camera with a flash. And they’re big cameras, old school film cameras, 35 millimeter. So people didn’t do it that often, because you wanted to go out and dance and have a good time. But he brought a camera. So one of the big parts of the reunion had been the slideshow. And I’m featured in a lot of it because I was his roommate, you know.
BK: Who is that, Frank Gibson?
GK: Yeah. So we used to call him Boots, or Stomper. Later, Matt Pinfield named him Stiffy [laughs].
GK: Cause of his muscles. Stiffy Biceps, that was his alias name [laughs].
BK: Yeah, that’ll stick. How far back do you go with Pinfield? You said high school?
GK: Oh, man, me and Matt Pinfield cut out of school when we were in 7th grade, 8th grade. And we’d cut out of school together and hang out, go get pizza. So I’ve known him since he was like 13, and he’s been a good friend of mine. Don’t speak to him as often more recently, but he and I go way back.
I was hanging out with Matt when he first started DJing at the Melody back in 82, I think. He had been a DJ at Middlesex County College, and then he was a DJ at WRSU Rutgers, and he was there for a number of years, and then he went to HTG. And then he launched I think around 94 to MTV. So I’m very proud of him. He’s doing well, and he’s with a woman who seems really great, so I’m happy for him.
And I’m also, I have an eleven year old son. He’s just finishing fifth grade, and he’s playing drums and we jam sometimes, maybe once a week. So I’m psyched. He plays in his school band. I’ve been with the same woman for twenty years. And so as far as I’m concerned, we’re both doing well, you know what I mean?
I feel like I was at the Melody right after they bought the place, the owners. So I knew all the owners, and I’d been there since the very beginning. I spent a lot of time at the Court Tavern, but I used to go see bands at the Court Tavern and then hang out and dance at the Melody. That was my repertoire. I wasn’t like a Court Tavern rat [laughs]. It was pretty crazy over there.
I just think it was a time when things were a little less uptight, you know what I mean? Doors were open till three a.m. in New Brunswick, until they changed that to two. So people would go to work, go home, go to sleep, wake up at 11:00 at night and go out for the evening. I wasn’t the only one, people did it all the time. Because you could go out late and there’d still be something happening. It was like New York.
People used to actually come in from New York, believe it or not, and Philly, to go to the Melody. Because the music there was amazing, and because it was free and had a cool little dance floor, and you know, just a cool little spot. So, believe it or not, people used to come in from New York City to go to the Melody.
BK: What do you remember about the day it closed, which was very abrupt in March 2001?
GK: I owned a restaurant in New Brunswick. I was a partner in a restaurant called North Star, and I had kind of stopped going out. I got into the Melody in the 80s, stopped for a little while and then started going out again because I joined a band again, and they all hung out there. And then later on when the bands ended, I was in that restaurant business for a while, and all of my employees, after work they’d want to go out and let loose. So I started going to the Melody again with them.
And the night before they closed, I was out with our manager and two other employees, and we went to the Bowl o Drome. And then we went to the Melody and hung out. And they were like, Ehh, it’s getting late, should we leave or not? And I was like, I’ve closed this place enough I don’t need to be here and I can go home now. Next day it’s closed. I swear to God that’s true. So imagine me saying those words [laughs], I don’t need to close this place. And then the next day it closed.
People were mystified. There were so many people that it was such a big part of people’s lives, that even though they put a padlock on the door, people were still coming there and trying to get in. They were in denial. It was like a shock that the Melody finally closed.
And more recently there’s been all these closings, which really sucks, but along the way, there were so many great places. There’s a Facebook page that I’m a part of that is clubs that don’t exist anymore in New Jersey and New York. And it’s amazing just how many amazing places, including CBGBs, I played there like five or six times, and like the Limelight and the Marquee. I guess the Ritz still exists because now Webster Hall is basically the same building. But so many great places closed, including the Melody.
And there was a time in New Brunswick where you could go out and listen to live music pretty much every night of the week. Between the open mics at the Corner Tavern, and the Court Tavern and the Melody and the Bowl o Drome and McCormick’s and Budapest, just the list goes on and on. There were so many places to go to that you could basically, if you were at college at Rutgers, you had it made if you were into music. It was really a great time.
And the radio station’s always been great. I’ve had a lot of friends who were DJs there over the years. A couple of them still are there. Ed Wong, Lisa Uber, but they’re like a rarity there. Pat Pierson is another friend of mine who’s on seasonally.
And it’s funny, now I’m friends with the owners of Pino’s, and I play there regularly. And if it wasn’t for Pinos, I don’t know where people would play. Except for basement shows. Which became big in the 2000s, and then again in the 2010s. I don’t know, I think there’s less going on now, but what do I know? I’m not at Rutgers, you know what I mean? There’s probably a basement scene going on now.
BK: There really are a lot of showhouses that pop up and run for a year or two, and then the next wave comes in. That’s kind of it, but there are a lot of them right now if you’re in the showhouse circuit [Pillowinde link].
GK: My bandmate Dave is in a band called Roadside Graves, and they’re a signed band and have toured nationally. And they’re less active now, but they’re about to put out another album with Don Giovanni Records. And that label had Screaming Females who played regularly at Meat Town, which was one of the big basement places in New Brunswick for many years. And that band is amazing.
BK: Yeah. They have an album out this year, too.
GK: They’re amazing. She [Marissa Paternoster] is, like, unbelievable. I mean, as a guitar player, I still look at other guitarists, but I watch her and I’m like, Oh my God, I put my guitar down.
I also have a lot of friends who are recently signed to labels, and we also worked pretty hard to try to get a label on for this record. But there’s so many bands out there. When I talked about CMJ, there were like, I don’t know, maybe 10, 15, 20-thousand indie rock bands in the United States in the early 90s. And there’s like hundreds of thousands of bands now, if not more. Anyone can have a microphone or laptop and record. Anyone could put something on YouTube. It did not exist back then. You had to get signed to put a CD out. Cost like five or six thousand dollars to put a CD out back then. So it was a big deal that we got signed. And some of my friends’ bands have been signed this year, which is pretty exciting.
BK: Yeah. Which bands, if you haven’t mentioned?
GK: Well, back in the day, I played a lot with Pete Horvath. He’s always been in music, and he started earlier than me, actually. He posted something on Facebook recently and he said he started in, like, 83, 82. So he had eight years on me. But he’s been playing the whole time, and he’s signed to Jem Records. That’s a Jersey label.
BK: Yeah, The Anderson Council. They just put out a record too.
GK: Yes. And then my friend Cyndi [Dawson] is in a band called Cynz, and they signed to Jem this year. And my friend Albie, who was in the Stuncocks and a bunch of other bands, is in a band called San Tropez, and they signed this year to Mint 400.
GK: Good. Say Hi for me. I love her. I’ve known her since the early 80s. She’s done an amazing job, power to Cyndi. She can sing, she can entertain. Her partner is an amazing guitar player. And she deserves what she’s got. She’s worked really hard. She started late, actually, so she’s only been at it for, like, I’m guessing only ten years, right? She wasn’t in a band until later, right?
BK: I think so, yeah. At least with The Cynz. I don’t know. I was going to ask her.
GK: She told me the other night she did a lot of spoken word. And she was pretty big in the poetry and spoken word kind of crowd, which is sort of like songwriting. So she was involved in the arts community, though she wasn’t actually in a band until later on. But they’ve worked their asses off and they deserve everything they got. And what’s the other band? I guess the Gripweeds have been around. I played with the Gripweeds at the Melody in the 90s and they’re still putting out records. And I think they’re also on Jem Records. Believe so.
The Cynz are also like kind of like RGD, like dirty rock and roll. Rough and ready rock and roll. And I think the Cynz are closer to that. I would say San Tropez is more shoegazey. In fact, they remind me of my first band. And I told Albie [Connelly] yesterday, I said, When I think of you guys, I think of My Bloody Valentine, who are the quintessential shoegaze band.
BK: They joke that they are time travelers because they could have made the exact same band that they’re in now back in the 90s.
GK: That’s totally true. And those guys are all from the 90s [laughs]. Those guys were all in bands back in the 90s.
[A little break in the call. Someone gets up, birds are chirping, cars go by.]
GK: I feel like I haven’t been interviewed a lot, and so I feel like I have a lot of information. I don’t want to fatigue your ear, but I’ve been around the music scene in New Brunswick for a looong time.
BK: Well, I’ve got a couple more for you.
GK: Okay. I’m not in a rush today, if you have questions. Hopefully some of the stuff I’m giving you also leads to good questions for the other members of the performing community.
BK: Yeah, exactly. Well the more people I talk to, the more leads I get to pursue.
GK: And Chris Jordan, by the way, always had my back early on. And I think it’s gotten more challenging in the press world. Because it’s tough on the media world, because of the internet and everything, and staff shrinking and everything. But I always got a lot of love from the Asbury Park Press, the Home News, the Star Ledger. We were also written up in a lot of fanzines over the years, especially Dandelion Fire and The Fletchers, and Rotator Cuff, I guess. But yeah, I got a lot of love back in the day, it was kind of cool. Very rarely did we get a bad review. I can’t remember, but maybe one or two out of 100 where somebody just wasn’t into that style of music or something.
BK: When I go through the newspaper archives, which is how I do a lot of my research on the New Brunswick scene, it’s pretty much either Chris Jordan or Kelly-Jane Cotter with the band reviews and band interviews.
GK: Yeah, Kelly gave me a lot of love too.
BK: And you put out one of those records on [San Tropez bassist] Frank Bridges’ 90s label, right? Well Primed?
GK: Yeah, Well Primed was Dandelion Fire’s first EP, and it was produced by Matt Pinfield. And it came out in 91 and then we were signed about a year later to Shimmy Disc. But Frank gave me a real break back in the day, gave us. It was also very expensive to record back then. It was all analog, two inch and a tape cost like $150 to record a session on. He once sold me used tapes, and that’s what we recorded Rotator Cuff on [laughs].
I remember that because I still have the box and it has kiaro skuro, which was Frank’s band, crossed out and Rotator Cuff written in. Pretty funny. I posted a picture of it somewhere. I thought it was funny. You could bulk erase the tape and use it more than once if you were careful. And it was well kept.
So here’s a punchline. I have the entire Shimmy Disc. We put out an album and the label kind of fell apart and didn’t do a lot of promotion and kind of put it out there and let it sit. So that Dandelion Fire album never really got heard by anybody much. I would say the single/EP we did got heard more because it came out in the UK, where it got nice write ups in the Melody Maker and the British press.
But that album, I brought it up to Alan Douches, who’s up in West West Side Music, which is a pretty famous mastering house. He baked all the tapes and digitized them for me, so I have the complete masters for all of that music. And I was thinking about going back in the studio and remixing and remastering that record. Shimmy just didn’t do a very good job mastering it, I know that. So there may be a new Dandelion Fire release coming up.
BK: Oh, great. I only found a couple of YouTube videos. Is that all that’s out there?
GK: There isn’t a lot out there. “Elation” was from that first EP and that’s Limelight footage that a woman from a record label put together for us. And there’s a couple of songs I could send you that were from the EP, but the album is basically out of print. You could get a copy probably on YouTube on Ebay or something, but the album is out of print and has been unavailable.
And there’s some really cool stuff on it. In ’93, we were the only rock band, really a very few, who were doing kind of acid house, techno-influenced rock and roll. And within a couple of years, a bunch of other bands were doing it, including U2. So that’s why we got all those openings, because we were like one of the few bands that kind of matched what was going on in England, because everything takes a year or two to come over here. Like the rave scene took a couple of years to come over here, the Haçienda [venue in Manchester] and all that nonsense.
That album is hard to find. I think I’m gonna have everyone’s blessing to go ahead and mix and master it. And I know where I’m going to do it. RGD just recorded at Lakehouse [Recording Studios].
BK: In Asbury.
GK: Yeah. And the guy we recorded with, Eric Bennett, is just an angel and a very talented guy, and he did such a wonderful job that if I were going to remix it, I’d pay top dollar and have him do it. I think he has a great ear. I believe San Tropez also recorded at Lakehouse, some of their stuff. It’s expensive there, but it’s an amazing studio. Sounds so good. And I went to the top mastering house too, again for RGD, so you can hear the production quality is pretty good on that new single.
BK: So what’s the timeline for RGD for the rest of this year? You’ve got shows and you’ve got releases?
GK: Yeah, we just played at Pino’s. We have upcoming shows this fall in Asbury Park [October 20 at the Asbury Park Hotel] and at Pino’s. And I’m in the process of trying to book elsewhere. We’ve played down in New Hope and Lambertville, and I plan on playing down there again. The one thing we haven’t done is play in Philly, but we have some friends in Philly, so I’m trying to work on a show swap to play in Philly next year or this fall. We’re playing November 11 at Pino’s with Dave’s band. They’re releasing an album again, so we’re going to play with them. That’s Roadside Graves and another band that’s on Don Giovanni called The Ergs, I think they might be on that bill also.
I took a break because I had to plan Porchfest with my friend Sue, and that took a lot of time and energy. And ParkStock is happening now, now that Porchfest is over. We’re going to do it every year.
ParkStock is five Thursdays during the summer months, Thursday evenings in Donaldson Park, at the gazebo. Last year was our first year and we had [The Band Called] Fuse and a bunch of other bands, all different kinds of music, jazz, funk, rock. I think I had [Pete] Horvath’s Beatle cover band play last year, Hey Bulldog. Just a nice variety of music. And we have the same thing going on this year. There’s going to be bluegrass, jazz, funk. And I booked my friends in Hair Magic to play, and originally RGD was going to play, but we can’t do it. So I got Cold Weather Company. They’re a pretty big band. So that kicks off the season at seven on July 20.
And I’m glad you thought of me. I was trying to think how I managed to get on your phone list, I was thinking I did try to reach out to New Jersey Stage for Porchfest, and I think I also maybe tagged our single on there, just for fun.
BK: It’s because of the single, cause I follow your bands on whatever social media’s.
GK: Cool. And yeah the last album, just so you know, I think it got to 175 on the college charts, in 2019, just before the pandemic. So it was an independent release, but it did really well in college radio.
BK: Who’s on the cover of that album?
GK: That is my wife’s aunt. They live in Lake Tahoe. They were ski bums in the 60s [laughs]. So that picture is her in the late 60s in Tahoe. They were basically like ski bums, hippy types. Sort of like surfers, but on skis. But yeah, that’s her. And she’s 80 years old now. She’s still got a lot of pep in her, though. We’re going to go out and visit this summer, go visit them in Tahoe. But I just happened to see a picture on the wall and I took a picture of it. And then when we were looking for album artwork, I called her and I said, Can I use your picture? And she’s like, Sure! It’s pretty random [laughs], but I thought it was a great picture. Also, those sunglasses and everything, it could be somebody now.
GK: Fashion, as you know, comes back on itself. I liked it.
BK: So I’ve got one more question, and I’ve been kicking this question around for a long time. I think you’re the perfect person to ask, but I think I know what your answer is going to be, after talking today. And the question is, if you could spend one more night at either prime Melody Bar or prime Court Tavern, which one would you pick and what would that night look like?
GK: Aww. That’s not fair [laughs].
I dated a lot of people back in the day at the Melody. I wasn’t in a band in the 80s, so instead I went out with people and dated a lot. And it was just a time when you could just meet people, have fun. Things were a little less uptight. There were no dating apps, you went out and met people [laughs]. You had to do it the old-fashioned way. So if I were going out to look for someone to go out with, I would have gone to the Melody, probably. Or if I was going out to dance, I would have went to the Melody. That’s where I spent most of my time.
But anytime there was a touring national band, and there were a lot of really famous bands, like Nirvana and a bunch of others that played at the Court. King Missile, Flaming Lips. There’s like all of these bands. Circle Jerks, Ween. A bunch of bands played at the Court. So it was a pretty amazing scene there. Socially I felt like I had more roots at the Melody, but I used to go to the Court regularly to see music.
Cause the Melody didn’t really start having bands until the late 80s, early 90s. They renovated the upstairs and they started having bands upstairs and they also did hip hop and techno and fashion shows and a bunch of other things up there. So I felt like maybe I was more at home at the Melody. I don’t know if that answers the question.
BK: I think yeah, it sounds like you would choose the Melody if you only choose one.
GK: Yeah, on a night to just dance my ass off and just sweat, listen to good music, hang out, I would probably pick the Melody. But I can’t turn my back on all those amazing shows I saw at the Court. The Court court was a little more hardcore, a little more punk rock in the gritty kind of way [laughs]. They barely had working plumbing there. You could see the ceiling dripping downstairs when the toilet flushed upstairs, stuff like that. It was a real scene there. And the Melody was gritty, but it was a little bit more of a dance club, and a place you go to listen to music. But not necessarily live music, at first anyway.
BK: Do those Melody reunions live up to that in any capacity?
GK: I think so. But it’s really for the people that went to the Melody, I think. They get the biggest charge out of it because it reminds them of a time in their life where they were in college or they were single and they could go out and dance and not really have a care. As you get older, you have more responsibility, right? So they can take a night or a weekend, they can fly in and go to the Melody Bar reunion and see people that they hung out with every night for like years.
You know what the Melody was like, you know “Cheers”? It was like that, if you were a regular there. And I’m sure it was the same at the Court, you would walk in and you would know everybody. You’d immediately walk in and be like, This is my home away from home. That’s how it was.
And I guess in the 90s it kind of got bigger and bigger and bigger, it became more like a college bar towards the end. But for many years it was just like a place where, it was pretty mellow. There was no cover. I mean, it used to be just a place where Mason Gross students would go. It was like an art bar. Hairdressers, poets, nannies, art students. I swear to God, when I first started going, it was like a bohemian, more of a bohemian place, and then it slowly became more mainstream. And then right before it closed, I think it was like an all out college bar, you know, the crowds from the Old Queens and the [Golden] Rail would come over. Places like that.
BK: You got any keepsakes from it?
GK: Yeah, I have tons of pictures.
BK: You got any bricks or anything, from when it was torn down?
GK: I have a picture as my profile picture on Facebook right now that I like a lot, which is me slam dancing at the Melody and I’m about three feet in the air [laughs]. Yeah, I do have some pictures, a lot of pictures from the Melody.
BK: What else is going on with RGD? Anything else you would want to close with here?
GK: We have a cover of Joy Division that’s coming out as a single. That video is already done. I just haven’t gotten around to launch it yet. I already got clearance, copyright clearance to use it, so I’m just kind of waiting.
And yeah, I think this [mid-year review] is awesome. I’m excited for San Tropez, too, because Albie was in a signed band also at the same time Dandelion Fire was out and Rotator Cuff. So the fact that he’s in a band again, and signed, is a pretty amazing feat. And the fact that any of us are still playing music is pretty cool. I still love playing music, you know? I still love it.
BK: I think it’s great, too. And it just shows how strong that whole scene was. And remains, people just doing it for the love of making music. For the most part.
GK: Yeah. Because you can generate a buzz and get some people to go out to shows, but it’s really hard to get a lot of people out to shows. And now if you get 50 or 60 or 70, or like during the pandemic, the Fletchers brought out about 150 people outside. We did outside shows. Because people were just hungry for that.
A year after quarantine, a couple of years ago now, people are hungry to see live shows again. I just saw a fistful of shows that I really enjoyed. I saw LCD Soundsystem, Yo La Tengo. I’ve been going to shows again. A little nervous, being at Brooklyn Steel. Some of these places are huge [laughs].
But it just feels good to see a lot of music again. All around, it’s just good to see music. It’s good to hear music. It’s good to play music. I feel very lucky to have been a part of all that, and to still be doing it.
Listen to RGD on all the streaming platforms and Bandcamp.
Bennett Kelly reports on music for New Brunswick Today. He has twice won the Best Arts & Entertainment Coverage award from the NJ Society of Professional Journalists, for his features on the music scene in 2022 and 2023.